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Wait – Does Change Really Work?

Originally published on October 19, 2016

This is the 16th in a Blog series on Executive Leadership

The world hates change, yet it is the only thing that has brought progress. — Charles Kettering

One may posit that the only constant in life is change. Whether small or large, change is happening all around us every day—at home, at school, in the workplace… Change is the response to our dynamic world, whose active forces may be a pressure that requires a measured plan thought out in advance to manage—in fact, the more potential scenarios that you may consider in advance, the more measured your reaction to change may be. Compared to crisis decisions at the time of the occurrence, having a plan ahead of time from which to proceed more often results in better decisions—and results. 

Why Change?

When a gap becomes evident between the current condition and direction of the organization and the new direction or vision, change needs to take place to resynchronize actions with desired outcomes. Why will you become involved in change? You will either be involved as a manager or employee who is part of implementing change—or you will be involved as a leader who develops the strategic plans and initiates and oversees the change process. Regardless of the size of your organization, as an executive or senior leader, you will be responsible for guiding yourself, your peers, your managers, and your employees through the change process.

The Change Process

It is essential to understand the change process in order to effectively plan and implement change in an organization. The more you understand the process, the better equipped you will be to lead your organization and its employees through change. Simply put, the change process involves understanding the differences between the current condition and the desired outcome. Three phases comprise the change process, as illustrated in the figure below.

Awareness Phase. The awareness phase consists of a basic, two-step process:

  1. Acknowledging the need.

  2. Considering possibilities.

Acknowledging the need. This happens when you realize that a gap exists between the organization’s current state and the conditions necessary to succeed in the future. It may also be relative to internal conditions alone, such as problems with morale, communications, and so forth.

Consider the possibilities. Once you determine that a gap exists between where the organization is and where it needs to be, the second part of the awareness phase is considering possible courses of action to take to close the gap. In order to optimize the potential for planning and implementing the most viable solution to bridge the gap, bringing in people from across the demographic of the organization to brainstorm possibilities is important. Once you start the brainstorming process, it is essential that you respect and consider every suggestion offered by the group. After the initial offering of ideas, you need to lead the group through evaluating ideas to find the best option(s) with which to proceed.

Action Phase. Like awareness, the action phase consists of a two-step process as well:

  1. Pinpointing the best option(s).

  2. Creating a plan—or plans—for change.

Pinpointing the best option(s). This phase involves taking the option(s) that came out of the brainstorming process and evaluating with a finer granularity. Some of the considerations during this phase include the cost and time involved, necessary physical resources, and so forth—not unlike planning any type of comprehensive project. However, in this case, it is necessary to step beyond the simple identification of the best options and required resources to project out how the process will affect the long-term operations and functions within each component of the organization.

Creating the plan(s) for change. Creating the plan is like the planning phase of a project—it is the time when you determine in more definitive terms how much change will cost, the timeline for activities and completion, what resources will be used during which part of the change process, and to whom the various responsibility for tasks and supervision will be attributed. This level of granularity is necessary to provide milestones by which to gauge progress during the change process.

Achievement Phase. Once again, the achievement phase consists of a two-step process as well:

  1. Activating the plan.

  2. Amending the plan.

Activating the plan. Activating the plan draws many parallels to the execution phase of project management. It is during this phase that you introduce and operationalize the steps decided upon in the prior phase.

Amending the plan. The only constant is change… You have likely heard that phrase before. Much like the monitoring and controlling phase in project management, this refers to making corrections, changes, and redirections during implementation as the effects of the plan are realized. During this phase, the leader must monitor implementation, making sure employees are following the plan—including meeting timeline milestones, managing resources and costs, and performing at the expected level to achieve the strategic goal(s) though attaining intermediate objectives.

Are You a Transformational Leader?

Take a moment to consider what areas of your organization’s successes or areas for improvement may indicate the need for changing tactics. Kotter (2015) suggested seven areas of process evaluation that may lead to a determination that transformational leadership is necessary to your organization.

1.       Falling behind the competition in the current business environment

2.       Ill-prepared to compete in the future business environment

3.       Too slow to execute

4.       Quick to execute but slow to think, strategize, and plan

5.       Too slow to innovate

6.       Too slow or ineffective integration of mergers and acquisitions (M&As)

7.       Silos restricting the ability to collaborate

Managing Obstacles. Of the seven process areas identified by Kotter (2005), once you have evaluated how they may or may not be affecting your organization, you are ready to examine the other side of productivity — people. Five key factors to use in evaluating performance on employees (or managers, for that matter) include:

1.       Disengaged from their roles, colleagues, managers, customers/clients

2.       Falsely urgent, consumed by constant activity, knee-jerk reaction, & firefighting

3.       Complacent, lulled into false sense that current methods suffice for the future

4.       Lopsided, focused more on managing consequences than leading

5.       Siloed, known more for setting boundaries than providing gateways


Informing employees. There are essential pieces of information that must be communicated to everyone who will take part in or be affected by the change plan(s). These include the five basic questions focused on in most planning and task assignment processes:

  • Why will the change take place?

  • What changes will take place?

  • Who will be affected by the change?

  • When will the change take place?

  • How will the change be implemented?

Why will the change take place? Your managers and employees—especially those who may not have been involved in the change planning—will want to know why the change is necessary. Be up front with your organization’s people. Explain to them about the gap between the current state and future needs, including how the change supports the organization’s strategic goals and vision.

What changes will take place? Once employees understand that change is going to take place—and why—it is important that they understand what to expect during the change process. What will be changing? Will it be policy, processes, training, resources, work location, management structure, or even pay and benefits? People are more receptive to change when they know what to expect…

Who will be affected by the change? The first reaction of most people follows the WIIFM principle—What’s In It For Me. Sharing information about who will be affected in what way by the change(s) helps to quell fears or anxieties that employees may have. It has been said that the worst thing about most situations is not knowing…sharing this information with employees helps mitigate that stress—to a degree, anyway.

When will the change take place? This is, perhaps, one of the easiest pieces of information to share with employees. You can share the timeline at a strategic level without drilling down into all the details. Some of their concerns may include whether they will still have employment, changes in workload or position, or whether they will be expected to do the same type of work. But beyond themselves, it is also important for employees to understand how changes will affect other parts of the organization—will they still have the same contacts for processes that transcend department boundaries? If the company is merging or being taken over by another entity, will they still be doing the same thing, be promoted, be moved, etc.?

How will the change be implemented? Now that they know the other components of the upcoming change, employees will need to know how it will be implemented. For example, there may be new terminology or processes involved with which employees may not be familiar. Workflow may be disrupted during the change—what is the plan to mitigate any negative impact? Will there be new equipment that employees need to learn? The more they know, the less fearful employees are likely to be.

As correlated by (Kotter, 2015), the process of leading change that was prevalent two decades ago has evolved into a more efficient and powerful model today. Perhaps one of the primary differences is the expansion of collaboration in the pursuit of goals that were previously considered to be outside the box.” This correlation is illustrated in figure below.

Figure: 20 years of change–leading to accelerating. Adapted from Kotter (2015, p. 10)

To facilitate the evolution from leading change to accelerating change through transformational leadership, Kotter introduced an eight-step process by which change may be enhanced. These include:

  1. Creating a sense of urgency. Executive leaders must describe an opportunity that will appeal to individual’s hearts and minds, using this statement to raise a large, urgent “army” of volunteers to accomplish the goal(s).

  2. Building and guiding a coalition. A volunteer army needs to have coalition of effective people—from within their ranks—to guide, coordinate, and communicate the army’s activities.

  3. Forming strategic vision and initiatives. Strategic initiatives must be targeted and coordinated such that if they are executive fast enough and with enough quality, the initiatives will lead to accomplishing your vision.

  4. Enlisting a volunteer “army.” You can only expect to realize large-scale change if you bring significant numbers of employees into the process and lead them to drive tasks toward the goals leading to realizing your organization’s vision.

  5. Enabling action by removing barriers. By removing barriers to innovation and change—such as inefficient processes or hierarchies—leaders provide the freedom for employees to work across boundaries to collaborate, coordinate, and create real impact.

  6. Generating short-term “wins.” Use a building block approach to achieving strategic goals and your vision. Align tasks with short-term objectives that, in turn, align with strategic goals. As the short-term objectives are attained, your army gets the boost of having successfully met the objective and scored a “win” for the team.

  7. Sustaining acceleration. In order to maintain momentum, leaders must be adaptable—and learn to adapt quickly. As change processes are going on, leaders must be able to assess direction, progress, impact, and whether the plan is still the right plan. If not, the leader must be able—and willing—to make the adjustments necessary to support strategic goals.

  8. Instituting change. The purpose of change is to make them enduring. In order to accomplish this, leaders must define and communicate how those changes connect to new behaviors that will lead to organizational success. This is where you get “buy-in”—where the army becomes engaged rather than simply a group of volunteers (figure below).

Figure: Instituting change. Adapted from Kotter (2015, P.27)


Next week will be the 17th post in the series: Self-Awareness as a Leader.




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